in books, review

secrets, strangers, and sadness: Sarah Singleton’s The Poison Garden

thepoisongarden I was lucky enough to get this book, Sarah Singleton’s The Poison Garden, in one of the give-aways that Simon and Schuster (UK) have on Facebook. (I know! I’m occasionally unimpressed by Facebook for a variety of reasons, but free books? get me every time.)  Now, to the book at hand.

First, I feel I must say that the children in this book, Thomas and Maud, are both charming and appropriately childlike.  Although Thomas is the central character and the main focus of the book, Maud has a delicate force and power all of her own, and I appreciated the attention that Singleton paid to her. Thomas, a little older and more suspicious than Maud, reacts to all of the strange situations he finds himself in with bravery, but he also (as many children his age would) looks to those around him for support.  Although much of that support is questionable (and possibly deadly), it is still a refreshing change from the nearly-adult independence found in a number of children in fiction.

The story begins with a funeral. Thomas’ grandmother has died, and the family has gathered around her grave to say farewell. Thomas, a very observant young man, shows in this small moment the bravery and intelligence that serve him well for the rest of the novel:

Thomas looked away, his attention snagged on the hawthorn hedge beyond the wall. He could see a shadow beneath the leaves and may blossom.

This piece of darkness, of indefinable shape, stuck out a black-gloved hand, flexed long fingers–and waved.

He looked again. The mysterious hand disappeared. He wanted to run over and find out to whom the hand belonged–and why this person was hiding. But propriety held him in place. The mystery niggled, an itch he wanted to scratch.

Thomas leaves the funeral saddened and curious.  Later, he discovers he also has two gifts from his grandmother: a (very important) small wooden box and, when he turns fourteen, an apprenticeship in London. A mysterious meeting with a tall stranger that evening begins the adventure that will absorb the next five years of Thomas’ life. Using the box, and under the stranger’s careful eye, Thomas travels to his grandmother’s secret garden. But, danger lurks in the garden, and without giving any of the plot away, it is safe to mention that Thomas will be asked to make difficult choices and find allies wherever he can.

Singleton does an excellent job making the gardens places worthy of investigation.  They are both attractive and repulsive, protective and dangerous, creative and destructive. The Poison Garden is lovely, delicate, and thrilling–much like the garden found within its pages.